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2,000 Massachusetts National Guardsmen activated in coronavirus response

Soldiers and Airmen of the Massachusetts National Guard muster on the Boston Common to receive orders for a coordinated response in support of civilian authorities in the wake of the marathon bombings, April 15 2013. (U.S. Army photo by Cadet Matthew Feehan, Massachusetts National Guard)

The Massachusetts National Guard will deploy up to 2,000 members to help with the state’s coronavirus response as the statewide nurses union called on Gov. Charlie Baker for military help Thursday and Boston hospitals prepare for a surge of patients.

“Activating the National Guard will help support our Administration’s efforts to keep residents safe and secure during the COVID-19 outbreak,” Baker said in a statement. “The expertise of the Massachusetts National Guard will benefit our communities with logistical support and other assistance as we continue to respond to this crisis.”

Effective Thursday, the guard will help with equipment, logistics and warehousing, the Baker administration said.

National Guard spokesman Donald Veitch could not confirm which units will be utilized, but said the Massachusetts National Guard has four medical units. He said not all 2,000 members will be deployed at once.

Earlier Thursday, the Massachusetts Nurses Association wrote to Baker asking for supplies, widespread cancellation of elective surgeries and National Guard members to be stationed at hospitals to enforce restricted visitation.

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The National Guard was last activated in July to help Cape Cod communities suffering from two tornadoes. During that time, 500 members were deployed.

National Guard Lt. Col. Michael P. Manning, a national security fellow at The Fletcher School at Tufts University said members are well-trained for the crisis.

“A large representation of our people work in the medical profession, in public safety, all of these professions that are being heavily relied on at this time,” Manning said.

Nurses and hospitals across the state are feeling the pressure from coronavirus, which could continue to worsen in the coming weeks or months.

Donna Kelly-Williams, MNA president said, “It’s beyond urgent at this point, it’s critical, it’s something we have to do immediately. We need to get more personal protective equipment available to the nurses.”

Boston hospitals have shifted their approach in recent days with a focus on conserving personal protective equipment, limiting who is allowed in patients’ rooms, increasing staffing and freeing up space to fit more beds.

According to data from the Department of Public Health, there are more than 68,000 beds across all licensed Massachusetts hospitals. The agency was unable to say how many are free, noting that is a constantly changing number.

Dr. Shira Doron, an infectious disease specialist at Tufts Medical Center, said, “It’s not out of the realm of possibility that the United States could run out of beds and that Massachusetts could run out of beds.”

Dr. Daniel Kuritzkes, chief of infectious diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, said a regional triage and coordination effort initiated through the government would help ease the burden.

“I think it would be beneficial to begin planning that right now because we may need it very shortly,” said Kuritzkes.

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© 2020 the Boston Herald